My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Monday, 10 November 2014

Acceptance, Defiance and Difference

Is mainstream acceptance a blessing, or does it mean that we can no longer engage in sartorial protest against the failings of the mainstream?

This post was inspired by my musings after watching the section on not wanting to be acceptable in ::this:: video by Jwlhyfer de Winter.

Personally, most of the long-term Goths I've met have been more about keeping true to their selves, their unusual fascination with the dark, the macabre, the sinister, in the face of opposition of a society that feared and loathed those things than engaging in an active rebellion; wanting to shock and 'be a rebel' always seemed the realm of teenagers for whom Goth was a means to express teenage angst and rail against the world as it is revealed to be deeply unfair, rather than a core motivation of the subculture. I've often argued that no, we're not in it to shock, we're not in it for the attention, we're just here to enjoy our own thing, that it is purely motivated by a desire to express ourselves, our interests and passions and our creativity. 

But Goth evolved from Punk, and Punk involved fashion as a political statement, and Goth as well - it was a deliberate embracing of imagery and symbolism that was provocative; it was making a statement, yet I was not even born yet when people declared "punk is dead", and while the subculture and values will probably never die, I think Punk's viability as a counterculture rather than subculture has wained.  

Partly, times have simply moved on, and actions and fashions that were once capable of being a viable statement of more than just one's sartorial proclivities are now seen as simply being shocking for attention, and possibly ticket and music sales - a publicity stunt, either personal or as an entertainer. Marilyn Manson's criticisms of the church and society are largely ignored as his shock rock is seen as a way to titillate, provoke and make him an awful lot of money. That sort of thing is nothing new! I think it was Paganini who helped propagate rumours that he had sold his soul to the devil for his talents, because it boosted concert attendance - people wanted to hear the devil play - and Marilyn Manson, the "antichrist superstar" can be seen as not that different. This is not to say I don't like Marilyn Manson (or Paganini), but that their very attempts to shock us with a message can get cynically dismissed, and the message becomes lost.

Fashion as a means to shock is loosing it's power too - even Lady GaGa's most ridiculous outfits, while they initially were discussed by the media as so daring, or making a mockery, or even disgusting (the infamous "meat dress"), discussion of her clothes has been relegated to the gossip papers, and she no longer shocks, if she ever really did. Discussions as to whether her whole stage persona was an elaborately self-parodying send-up of the pop-industry became discussion of her as just another pop-star. She's probably one of the few pop musicians whose output I like (at least her earlier tracks) and I appreciated the dark aesthetic of many of her videos, but the question of whether she was really creating a tapestry of thickly woven satire, parody and irony behind her 'poker face' or whether she was simply another person looking for fame and stardom by being as dramatic and weird and shocking as possible is as yet to be resolved - personally, I think the lyric content of her songs points that she is in fact creating her own artistic of protest of the very establishment of popular entertainment that sustains her. 

Neither of the two artists above are Goth, though, and although I think that they have definitely been influenced by the Gothic aesthetic, if not the subculture, and have then themselves, in their prominence in the parent cultural mainstream, fed back into the subculture. This is mostly because the bands and musicians who became famous enough to make a visible musical and political statement and who fit as Punks or Goths (or whom were labeled as such) did so either before I was born, or before I was old enough to understand what was going on, and that contemporary bands are working within an established genre and subculture rather than breaking new ground in terms of their ethos - even if people are certainly continuing to be original musically. 

It does not seem to me that shock tactics are really going to work in a world that has had decades to get used to Punks and Goths, and the only people who will be shocked are those who are comparatively conservative by the standards of the mainstream, and more is being done to change them by time and progress and by their ideology being challenged than by us dressing in the most morbid black and proclaiming our love for what they will find outrageous - that tends to get us vilified more than achieve actual change.

As a teen, I adopted Goth as a means to annoy those around me who tried to force me to conform to a set of values that did not suit me - those who were homophobic, religiously intolerant, those who tried to stifle my creativity, deny my differences, and force me to be something they would accept but was alien to my self. My sartorial defiance of the rules  as a teenager, brought upon me a whole heap of erroneous assumptions, and my power to shock was far outweighed by the power of others to make my life miserable - it only made my immediate situation worse. I might have been defiant and I will still never change who I am to suit others - but I also did not change those around me; I simply outlasted them and moved away and moved on. It taught me a lesson in resilience, but it did nothing to alter those who already disliked me, rather it provoked some into actually despising me and it was confrontational enough to simply further entrench them. All I can be is living proof that the were wrong. 

With the shock value taken away, it means that instead of reacting to something provocative, those who come across us have the emotional distance to listen more carefully to the statements we want to make; I think we can deliver a sartorial message that is more subtle, but no less potent. Our clothes speak of embracing our own mortality, looking unflinchingly at that which can terrify us, of embodying our demons to overcome them, of drawing power from the symbolism of witches, vampires and zombies and using those symbols and concepts as lenses and metaphors for the world around us, we can walk around as dark reversal of the bright colours of the old aristocracy; we can be the portraits of Dorian Grey, and as we are not trying to shout in the face of the world, we can do all this and be listened to - Jillian Venters is onto something with her "subversion through politeness". 

I prefer our being accepted, or at least tolerated by the mainstream, because it's frankly a lot better than the constant harassment and threats of violence (often escalating to actual violence ) that I, and other Goths used to face (and depending on location, still face), and how I got treated as if I was genuinely an evil degenerate, the revulsion, the way people looked down on me. I don't want others to be bullied, harassed or attacked - I don't want them to suffer the same ire and disrespect as I did, that's part of why I write this blog; to educate people and promote a more tolerant atmosphere.

In my consideration, the burgeoning acceptance of Goths also signifies how Gothic values, especially those from the pre-subculture, literary/art movement meaning of the word - the Gothic in terms of the sublime, the dark, the morbid, etc. are being embraced by more people. I think we've had a positive affect in getting people to appreciate the dark! It is becoming mainstream, it is being embraced by the establishment - something of a double-edged sword! What I  really don't like is when the Gothic becomes another trend to latch onto in the eyes of the corporate, consumerist machine - when it becomes just another "fashion" detached from its symbolism, from its roots, from the subculture that spawned it, and its longer past (which the British Library and the BBC have done a valiant and educational effort to avoid in a recent exhibition and documentary - the documentary I will review soon, and the exhibition as soon as I go to England and visit it!).

Let it be clear that I am not advocating our changing to become more acceptable; we are doing nothing wrong, nothing that needs to change - it is those that come at us with hatred, with insults, with judgements and debasement. We do not need to become acceptable; the world needs to become accepting, and at least in my experience over the last 10+ years I've been Goth, the world slowly is, and my thanks goes towards groups like the ::Sophie Lancaster Foundation:: for helping to make it so.  


  1. An interesting and thought-provoking read. I'm pleased you enjoyed the documentaries, I still need to catch up on two of them. I'm hoping to see the exhibition on Wednesday, so I will let you know what it's like.

    1. I really enjoyed the documentaries - I'll need to watch them again as I write up my reviews for them. I thought they did well to cover so much history, but there were a few things I felt could have been better (less cheesy fang-wearing, for example, and an episode dedicated to the Gothic in the late 20th C up to the present day).

  2. I'm glad you mentioned the Sophie charity. They're doing so much to raise awareness of intolerance towards those different, or stopping it by going to schools and raising awareness and so on. But we need to be equally aware and respectful of some people's rights to be non-goth, non-alternative, non-different. Not everyone is strong enough to stand up, or stand out from the crowd.

    1. The Sophie Lancaster foundation are putting out a pack to work with children in primary schools - I've seen babybat Goths who are in the upper years of primary (and with the rise in age-appropriate Gothic books, TV shows, etc. this is probably going to increase) so this seems like a good idea, and it also nips that sort of intolerance in the bud before children grow into being more diverse as teens.

      I think one of the first articles was where I talked about us not judging "normal" people as chavs or hipsters, or plastic, but maybe I should write a more extended post about not looking down on people for being mainstream.

  3. Back in August you wrote a series on politeness and Goth. You pointed out that our behavior and the way in which we interact with mainstream people has a lot to do with how we are perceived as a subculture. For the most part, what you said in that series holds true, our respect, good manners and politeness toward others will help us to become more acceptable to those who don't understand us. Should we be surprised then, when we actually become more acceptable?

    I don't really believe that Goth will ever become mainstream; especially, when other alternative types continue to perpetuate the idea that our outlook draws bad energy. Yes, I had a witch friend who used to insist upon that point, now she doesn't talk to me and won't sit near me in the library's computer lab. Also, there are so many tie-dye wearing hippies around here that I feel fully confidant that I'll continue to stand out even among other alternative types.

    Like so many others, I really don't like attempts to commercialize and mainstream our style, but I have no problem with people realizing that we're non threatening and are actually good folk.

    Although I'm far from being a teenager, I have to admit that there's still a fair amount of rebelliousness in me. I never fully outgrew it. Still, my love of dark music, Gothic literature and our dark aesthetic really has nothing to do with that. All things considered, I believe what's important is that if we stay true to who we are, regardless of what others think, everything else will fall into place.

    1. I've always felt that obedience is a personality flaw. I don't actively try to rebel, but I just don't do things /because it's expected/ without a good reason outside of that. I think I'm blessed and cursed at the same time with having the sort of mind that's pretty analytical of everything, and that doesn't align well with blind obedience.

      I think another reason Goth will never be truly mainstream is that not enough people are naturally attuned to the macabre, morbid and dark; most people are somewhere between unnerved and repulsed by many of the things we love, and I think that's at the root of why we get the pointy end of the stick; people don't get that you can appreciate the darkness without BEING the darkness.

      I'm an ex-hippie, and I feel I should post photos at some point, because nobody would believe it now!

      I think you're last sentence rings with so much truth. It's not about fighting a battle with the mainstream, it's about simply being steadfastly ourselves.

  4. Hi, sorry for replying so many years after you wrote this but it's a really interesting post and something I've been thinking about a lot, lately. Rebellion for the sake of rebellion, rebellion as a posture that became fashionable and mainstream itself, has driven us into a cultural dead end, in pop culture and some parts of the "high" art world and academia. Goth (and the gothic) are outside of that. Not counterculture so much as culture's dark romantic underside that has existed in some form or another for a long time. It's why it's so adaptable compared with other subcultures that have come and gone over the years.


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